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    Friday
    Sep102010

    The New Routine

    It's been a week now since I took DD#1 to college (nine hours away) and got her moved in. She has called a couple of times since then and she sounds happy and excited. While she's settling into her new routine, we're settling into our new routine. I'm down to one kid who is still at the local elementary school, so I don't have to drive to town as often as I did when I had two kids in two different schools. The number of school-related events I am required to attend has been cut in half. Our mornings are a bit less hectic, and because DD#2 is something of a social butterfly with lots of peeps, the husband and I have a lot more "date nights" on our schedule than we used to. 

    And there is one other big change to my schedule: I've enrolled in the medical transcriptionist program at the local community college. The entire course is online, so I can do it all from the comfort of my office at whatever time of day works best for me. 

    I did not undertake this without some thought. Figuring out how to make a living has been at the forefront of my mind for most of 2010. The husband and I are both self-employed, and both of us have seen our incomes decline by more than half in the past year. I've got more flexibility in terms of skills than he does. He's extremely good at building houses (and chicken coops), but there isn't much else he can do that will bring in a living wage. Construction jobs are harder to come by now than they were when we first moved here 17 years ago. I've got writing and teaching and bookkeeping skills. Unfortunately, my skills don't seem to command the kind of wages that his skills do. We can't live on the $1200 a month I could make as a full-time substitute teacher, not when $750 of that would go straight to health insurance premiums. I did apply for a few jobs in town. However, they don't pay much more than the subbing does and I would have the expense of fuel to get to town. The husband was pretty clear that I would do better working from home. 

    So I sat down and took a hard look at what things I could do that would bring some stability to our lives again. I can type, I have more than a passing familiarity with medical terminology, and I am used to running my own business. The fact that the entire course is online is a huge plus. I wasn't sure how much time the coursework would actually require, but I've been at it for a week now and it's fitting in quite nicely around everything else. There are eleven modules in the first semester (I was able to test out of the general math and writing requirements because I have a bachelor's degree already). I've completed two full modules and I am halfway through a third. Having all the medical experience I have has been quite a plus. There are advantages to being 44 instead of 18! 

    So we'll see how this goes. I'm not giving up knitting completely. I just don't have the luxury of time to wait for the economy to improve and people to start spending money again. Some of my time needs to be directed to activities that will improve our cash flow. And this is the year for me to do this, before DD#2 gets into high school. 

    Right now I am off to town, to mail the Fall issue of the newsletter. And tomorrow I am working at Camas Creek for the day. So I'll still have my fingers in the knitting. Stay tuned. I'll leave you with a pic of the hat I just finished in the Kristin Nicholas 'Julia' yarn. The pattern is with my tech editor, so it will be available shortly. This is the Haystack Hat:

     

    Monday
    Sep062010

    The Simplicity Aran

    Warning: Monday morning rant ahead.

    Some of you may remember that back in March, I was working on a design for Cast-On's 25th Anniversary issue. The issue is out. I wasn't terribly happy with the issue when I saw it, and now—after getting a note from one of my customers about the design—I am even more unhappy.

    The first thing I noticed when I opened the magazine was the photography. I'm no expert, but even I can get pretty decent shots of my designs. There is no styling of my sweater—it looks like they slapped it onto the model and posed her in front of a hotel bar. The lighting is awful. Cast-On chose the color. It's a beautiful pewter gray, but you'd never know it by looking at the photo, where it has an ugly yellow cast to it.  

    If you flip through the magazine, you will notice that there is no consistency to the schematics. Apparently they were printed in the magazine just as the designers submitted them, so the fonts, stroke weights, and other details differ from design to design. I think that's inexcusable for a national knitting publication like Cast-On. If the plan all along was to use designer-submmited schematics in the magazine, then they should have provided the designer with some guidelines to follow when creating the schematic! Something like "use this font, this stroke weight," etc., so that all the schematics would look the same. 

    I didn't see the charts I had submitted, but later found them (and charts for other designs in that issue) on the website. I don't agree with this practice. When 100% of Cast-On's readers have Internet access, it might be okay, but until then, it's not. To make matters worse, the key to the abbreviations for the cable crossings in the written instructions are not included in the magazine; they are part of the downloadable charts on the website, so anyone wanting to knit that sweater will have to download the charts to do it. And once again, there was nothing in the designer guidelines to indicate that our pattern should be submitted in PDF format for on-screen viewing, so the serif font I used in my PDF (which is great for print viewing) looks nearly unreadable on-screen. 

    A casual glance at the print pattern shows that the suggested yarn is labelled with a "4." Let me just digress for a moment and say HOW MUCH I HATE THE CRAFT YARN COUNCIL STANDARDS FOR YARN LABELLING and this is a stellar example of why. If you look at the CYCA website, it explains that a "4" means the yarn is a "medium" weight and includes worsted, afghan, and Aran yarns. The suggested gauge is 16 stitches to 4", and the suggested needle size is 7-9 US. 

    Now, look at the yarn details as given in the pattern. The suggested gauge over Sand stitch (the filler stitch in the Simplicity Aran) is 26 stitches to 4". That's a far cry from 16 stitches to 4". The suggested needle sizes are US 5 (for the ribbing) and US 7 (for the body of the sweater). If you were to choose a yarn based only on the CYCA symbol and number of "4", you'd end up with a yarn that was way too heavy for that design! That design really calls for something in the light worsted range, and you can't tell that from looking at the CYCA designation. 

    [Besides, I would never lump a worsted-weight yarn that knits at 5 stitches to the inch in with an Aran-weight yarn that knits at 4 stitches to the inch! The variation between those two weights is huge!]

    Lastly—and this one is totally my fault—the instructions for one of the cable maneuvers are incorrect. The instructions for the 7-stitch closing decrease currently read, "Slip next 3 stitches to RH needle . . . " and they should say, "Slip next 4 stitches to RH needle . . . " so if you're making or plan to make that sweater, please correct your copy of the instructions accordingly. 

    In other news, I managed to slice my left index finger open while making applesauce on Saturday. I was on the last batch of a total of 29 pints when the knife slipped and made a 1/2" gash right along the side of the nail. Ouch. I managed to play piano in church yesterday, so it wasn't too bad. Knitting, however, was a little problematic; I hadn't realized how much I use that finger to control what's happening on the needles. 

    I've started some of my class samples for the classes I'll be teaching at Camas Creek this fall. One of the classes is a Christmas stocking (the pattern will likely end up in the Winter issue of the newsletter). It has appliqued holly berries and leaves, so last night I knit those and got them out of the way. Hopefully today I will get the actual stocking started. 

    Tuesday
    Aug312010

    Apples

    Our main fire hall is located in the middle of our district (down in the valley). A large apple tree sits at the edge of the property. The husband mentioned the other day that the apple tree was loaded with fruit, so I checked with our chief to see who owns it. Lo and behold—it belongs to the fire department, and we were welcome to take whatever we wanted off the tree. 

    I stopped yesterday on my way home from town and backed my truck up under the tree. With the help of a stepstool, I was able to stand in the bed of the truck and pick a box full of apples. It's a tall tree, though, and I could only reach the lowest branches. The husband and I took a couple of ladders over last night and came home with these:

    That's three boxes, plus the Rubbermaid bin underneath, which is also full. I need to pick them over today and sort out the eating ones from the applesauce ones. I'm assuming they will make decent applesauce and maybe pies—the problem is that I have no idea what variety these apples are. The chief, who has lived here all his life, tells me this tree was a graft off one from a property down the road from the fire hall. I've narrowed it down: there aren't that many apple varieties which do well in Montana, and of those varieties, only a few produce fruit in August. This is a firm-fleshed, slightly tart apple. The color is a red blush over green—the ones on the tree which were fully red were soft and mushy. For a tree which has never been pruned or sprayed, the fruit was in great shape. I suspect—and again, this is only an educated guess—that these could be either Goodlands or Carrolls. Those two varieties were developed in Canada. Both are extremely cold-tolerant. Montana State University maintains an ag research center up the road from the fire hall, so I've e-mailed them to see if they have any additional information. I am pretty confident that it's not a Wealthy, which is quite popular here. 

    I should have taken a picture of the tree when we were done; the bottom third of it was bare. I could tell that the husband was wishing we could get the apples on the top two-thirds of the tree, too, but we'd have to drive our forklift over and it's bit too far. I said to him that I briefly entertained the idea of climbing up into the tree to pick apples (I used to be a very good tree climber), but that I realized that I am 44 now, not 12, and that it was probably courting disaster to try that. 

    I made a mental note to myself to go back in the spring and take cuttings to graft onto rootstock. We'll be putting in some fruit trees next spring and this one would be a great addition to our orchard. 

    If you want to read up on apples and especially about heirloom varieties, download this PDF. It's got some fascinating information. For instance, did you know that "of some 15,000 to 16,000 apple varieties that have been named, grown and eaten on the North American continent, only about 3,000 remain accessible to American orchard keepers, gardeners, chefs and home cooks. An estimated four out of five apples varieties unique to North America (80 percent) have been lost from commerce." Wow. There is a movement afoot to rescue those forgotten varieties (the PDF has more information if you're interested).

    I don't have any knitting to show you, unfortunately, although I'm almost done with a hat out of the 'Julia' yarn. I'm working two Saturdays a month at Camas Creek Yarn now (I worked this past Saturday) and I'll be teaching a lot of classes there this fall. Tomorrow, DD#1 and I leave for Tacoma, where she will be attending college. After I get her settled, I'll head back to Montana with a stop along the way to see Bev Galeskas at Fiber Trends. That should be fun. I always enjoy talking to Bev and it's been almost a year since I've seen her. And with both girls in school, I will get back to working on Cables 2

    Friday
    Aug272010

    A Fire on the Mountain

    Another cold, dry front came through last night. We got some wind, but nothing like I was expecting. Around 9 p.m., though, I was reading in bed and I could hear thunder and see lightning strikes on the mountains across from our house. Sure enough, the fire department south of us got paged to a fire about halfway up Jewel Basin Road (where those hiking pictures were taken last month). I walked out to the end of the driveway and could see flames burning.

    This is what it looks like this morning--I took this from the end of our driveway and I would say the fire is about a mile and a half south of us.

     

    I am rather surprised that the Forest Service isn't doing anything about the fire. I know they don't automatically put out all fires—they will let them burn if there is no threat to people or structures—but this is near a relatively popular hiking area. 

    The weather is supposed to be cool and wet for the next week, so perhaps they are banking on the fact that it won't get any bigger. If it gets hot and dry again, though, that's a different story.

    Tuesday
    Aug242010

    It's a Chicken Coop

    The husband and I have kicked around the idea of having chickens for a while now. At the rate we go through eggs here, it would be nice to have our own supply. This weekend he started building what I've been referring to as the Taj Mahal of chicken coops. This will be the coop part. There is a section about the same size behind it which will be the "free range" area for the chickens. 

     

    The only problem will, of course, be keeping the varmints out. I've got my .22 ready to go in case I need to pick off a couple of skunks or scare some coyotes. And we're not sure how Lila and Rusty will react. Lila considers our yard—and the animals in it—her own personal Disneyland. 

    [Lila really has turned out to be an exceptional dog, her appetite for baby robins notwithstanding. We think she's about two years old now. The inappropriate chewing has stopped, she listens well, and we enjoy having her around. So we may be able to train her not to bother the chickens—who, after all, will be happily ensconced in the Taj Mahal.]

    DD#2 has been working on her felted lunch bag. She knit the body of the bag, but I got drafted to help with the handles. She knit the handles; I grafted them. Then I had to thread bias tape through the handles (not as easy as it sounds!) to stabilize them, and then I had to sew a basting thread along the entire length of the handles to keep it from torquing. Bah! One handle took me an hour last night. It's been so fiddly that I've given up the idea of knitting my own lunch bag. I have to do the other handle and then we need to felt the bag and sew on the handles. And she wants to knit a flower and felt it for decoration. 

    Oh well, these are all learning experiences for her.